By Larry King
TROON, Scotland (Reuters) - Danny Willett comes to Royal Troon as both a major championship winner and as a contender for last year's British Open championship, and that is not a coincidence.
Willet was within a shot of the lead in the second round of the Open at St Andrews. He fell back a bit in the third round, but he was still doing well enough to be paired with Zach Johnson, the eventual winner, in the final round, and watching Johnson was instructive.
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"The one thing that's impressive about Zach is Zach never changes the game plan for anyone, any golf course. Regardless who he's playing against, he just does his own thing," Willett said at a press conference at Troon on Tuesday.
Nine months later, Willett was patiently creeping up on Jordan Spieth in the final round of the Masters. And then Spieth rapidly came back to meet him, throwing away a five-shot lead. Willett applied the lesson he had learned from Johnson.
"You're not going to do anything different," he said. "The reason you're in that position is because you're a very good player and you can do what you can do, and hopefully on a Sunday afternoon it's good enough."
It was good enough to bring him his first major. It's something of a cliche that winning the first major is the hardest, that they come easier once you know how. Willett is not sure that's true, at least not for him this year.
"If anything, (it's) probably a bit tougher, because you know you've done it and played well and competed and won against the best guys.
"It's a tough one now to make sure that you get back to the place where you were before you actually won and try not to have too much expectation on yourself every day.
"Otherwise, it's a pretty lonely game when things aren't going your way, and you struggle a little bit, because all you have to do is be reminiscing about how well you played a few months ago."
He also comes into Troon as the most recent Englishman to win a major and to contend at a British Open. That may well be an advantage when he tees off two days from now.
"Being British, this is the one you want to get your hands on ... and to be able to come here as a major champion and get the crowds with us, obviously would be fantastic Thursday morning. Yeah, it will be really, really special."
(Reporting by Larry King; Editing by Rex Gowar)